By WARREN RESEN Member IFWTWA (International Food Wine Travel Writers Association)
DARIEN, GA — Who hasn’t dreamed of escaping to a private island? When most people think these thoughts, it is usually the tropical islands of the Caribbean that come to mind or perhaps the South Pacific or even the Mediterranean. For most of us it remains just that, a dream. This dream might seem out of reach if you are looking at exotic foreign locales. But the dream is attainable if you look much closer to home, in this case just off the southeast coast of Georgia.
Yes, Georgia does have a coastline, approximately 100 miles of it which I discovered comes as a surprise to many from outside the area. It also has many islands, public and private. A few of the private islands, with accommodations, are available for rent. And that is where this story begins.
Meeting our group at the public dock in Darien, Georgia, just minutes east of I-95, was Capt. Andy Hill, owner of more than 2,000 acres of marshes and islands between the mainland and Atlantic Ocean. Boarding his 25 foot bay boat, we were transported to EAGLE ISLAND which would be our exclusive private island for the next three days. Arriving at the island took a scant 15 minutes, but it was a world away from everyday reality. The boat carried everything needed for three days of survival and partying.
Arriving at the dock on Mayhall Creek just off the Darien River, we had our first look at paradise; a three story lodge set in a clearing between the marsh and woods. The eagles nest, after which the island was named, was high up in a pine tree next to the lodge.
Baggage and supplies were off-loaded and carried to the lodge as we followed Capt. Andy for our first look inside our “rustic” accommodations. The main floor had two bedrooms, a bath, full kitchen, living room, fireplace and dining area. Upstairs, reached by a spiral staircase, was the sleeping loft. On the ground floor was a large room with multiple bunk beds, a bathroom, laundry and game room area. The lodge will comfortably sleep twelve to fourteen people, more if the kids bring sleeping bags for use in the ground floor area.
Once unpacked, it was time to stroll the trail through the heavily wooded hammock. In amongst the trees the silence was deafening. The hammock’s hard wood trees were heavily laden with Spanish moss. The views from wood’s edge were over seemingly endless miles of coastal marsh. Light and color changed with the time of day and the swiftly flowing tidal waters brought movement into this serene world.
That night over cocktails and a special low country boil (a one pot stew of shrimp, sausages, corn, potatoes, crab, onion, spices), we learned about the area and its unique environment. Salt marshes constitute the most important geographical features of coastal Georgia. It is estimated that Georgia’s marshes and tidal rivers cover over 700,000 acres while the barrier islands add up to more than 76,000 acres. One third of all marshes remaining on the US Atlantic coast are in Georgia and the presence of tidal creeks, freshwater bogs and ponds provides for great biological diversity. Eagle Island is one of Georgia’s approximately 1200 or so hammocks and one of its few private islands.
The area, both island and mainland, offer an abundance of opportunities for boating, fishing, swimming, bicycling and birding activities. When asked what birds come through here on their migrations, Capt. Andy replied, “All of them.” Capt. Andy is many things but obviously not a birder.
Watching the morning sunrise over the marsh from the front porch with that first cup of coffee is a delightful way to start the day. Daytime activities are up to you. Stay on the island and visit with family or friends. Work on that novel or suntan. If you’ve brought your own boat, want to charter one, are eager to kayak the hundreds of miles of creeks, or go fishing, the opportunities are endless. Capt. Andy can provide transportation to Darien or the 12,000 acre Sapelo Island with its miles of magnificent, mostly deserted, shell laden beaches.
Kayaking the creeks and marshes is one of the area’s highlights. The waters offer multiple opportunities for kayakers and canoeists both novice and expert. But because of strong tides and sometimes confusing channels, the use of a guide or outfitter is recommended. Danny Grissette of Altamaha Coastal Tours, based in Darien, gave our group a learned lecture about the creeks, tides and history of the area. His company can provide kayaks, canoes and bicycles and he can do guided tours of the salt marshes, tidal creeks and abandoned plantations.
Enjoying the sunset on the marsh trail, while sipping a glass of wine, is the perfect way to end the day. Then it’s back to the lodge for dinner. Bring and prepare your own food or arrange for some or all meals to be delivered from fine mainland restaurants. Capt. Andy will be happy to handle all of the details and is even available to prepare a low country boil.
Capt. Andy calls Eagle Island a “5-Moon Resort.” What it is, is the ultimate in a laid back vacation. The island and its facilities are yours to do as you wish in total seclusion. Enjoy a honeymoon for the first or second time. Party or reconnect with family and friends. Kids have their own private accommodations on first floor. Hold a business conference or reunion with no outside interruptions. Several couples sharing the cost to rent their own private piece of paradise makes for a very reasonable vacation.
There are other opportunities available on Capt. Andy’s 2,000 acres ranging from a very unique house on a nearby island to several semi-primitive camping sites. There’s even the High Tide Cottage, an in town Darien lodge, so it’s possible to vacation both on land and on the island.
To find out about the property(s) prices and availabilities for this very special opportunity, go to www.PrivateIslandsofGeorgia.com